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What is a Straw Man Argument?

The term straw man comes from scarecrows.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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A straw man argument is a rhetorical device that is meant to easily prove that one’s position or argument is superior to an opposing argument. However, the straw man argument is regarded as a logical fallacy, because at its core, the person using the device misrepresents the other person's argument. The person does this because it then becomes easier to knock down the weaker version of the opposing argument with one's more substantial counter argument. The term straw man derives from the use of scarecrows for military practice, such as charges. In reality, a scarecrow is far easier to defeat than an actual person.

The straw man argument, also called straw dog or scarecrow, deliberately misrepresents and weakens the argument of the opposing side. This can be done by leaving out key points of an opposing argument, quoting a person’s words out of context, or presenting a particular person’s poor defense as the entire defense of an opposing side. In the worst case, a straw man is literally an imagined person who weakly defends an argument and can be easily defeated.

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The straw man argument can be used in arguments in most areas of life, from political, to business, to religious, to personal life. It is also often used in conjunction with other logical fallacies, such as red herring, slippery slope, and ad hominem. One example of a straw man argument can be seen in the following hypothetical situation between a child and his parent:

Child: "Can we get a dog?"
Parent: "No."
Child: "It would protect us."
Parent: "Still, no."
Child: "Why do you want to leave us and our house unprotected?"

The child in the above scenario may be making a straw man argument if the parent's reason for not getting a dog has nothing to do with protection but with other factors. Moreover, not getting a dog is not necessarily proof that the parent doesn't want to protect the family and home as there are other means of protection.

Perhaps the easiest place to find straw man arguments is in the political sphere. One very effective straw man argument is to take a small sound byte from a political candidate and use this to generalize about the person’s ability to hold political office. Using the straw man argument, these sound bytes are often exploited in television and print ads, intentionally casting the candidate in a bad, albeit inaccurate, light. Although most voters can and will see through the straw man argument, many will accept the argument as truth, and allow it to sway their opinion.

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anon958293
Post 9

A - Don't worry about the updates. H1Z1 will be out soon.

B - Great. Another generic zombie game.

A - Maybe they will take the zombies outta H1Z1 and replace them with red animals. That would make it way less generic.

orangey03
Post 8

The straw man argument example between the child and the parent here sounds like arguments I used to make when I was a teenager. I probably couldn't have thought of something that clever as a young child, but as a teen, I was just full of them!

My arguments were mostly that the things I wanted could make me a more well-rounded person. Of course, this wasn't the real reason I wanted them, but I thought my parents might let me get them if they thought this.

When they said, “No,” my argument was always, “Don't you want me to have more life experience so that I will be better prepared for college?” This never worked, but I kept trying.

healthy4life
Post 7

I had no idea this was what it was called, but I use the straw man argument with my husband a lot. In my defense, he does say some really dumb things that are easily misconstrued.

So, I don't have to look far for my defense. It's only a slight twist on what he just said, but it infuriates him!

anon315174
Post 6

Obama = Straw Man to the nth degree.

anon98083
Post 3

Glen Beck = Straw Man extraordinaire.

anon61669
Post 2

This argument is the primary defense of youtube trolls.

averagejoe
Post 1

Though I'm sure I too am guilty of using straw men, I have to say, this leads the worst logical fallacies race.

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